“Lift Every Voice” Celebrates Elders Who Paved the Way

Before “Black Excellence” was a term, Black people were excelling and paving the way for future generations. The new book, “Lift Every Voice: A Celebration of Black Lives” is a collection of stories and interviews with some of the oldest generation of Black Americans about their lives, experiences, and wisdom. The book profiles 54 elders and celebrates their accomplishments and legacies.

With a foreword by Oprah Winfrey and an introduction by Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Lift Every Voice: A Celebration of Black Lives” features heroes and unsung heroes and shares the diversity of our stories.

“When we lift every voice, we forge a deep and enduring connection to the past—and carve a tunnel of hope to a brighter future for us all,” Oprah Winfrey says in the foreword.

Some of the featured stories include:

  • André De Shields, 75: Actor, Director, and Choreographer discusses the essential values and lessons his parents taught him
  • Clarice Freeman, 100: Educator and Community Leader in Houston, Texas speaks about how to live a long and fulfilling life
  • Faye Wattleton, 77: Reproductive Rights Activist and former president of Planned Parenthood recounts her experience as a nurse and midwife in the 1960s
  • Fred Gray, 89: Civil Rights Lawyer who represented Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin, 82, also featured in the book, against disorderly conduct charges for their refusal to give up their bus seats to white passengers
  • Patti LaBelle, 77: Singer/Songwriter who shares her thoughts on aging and her career as an internationally celebrated powerhouse singer
“This book, above all else, is a reminder of where we have been and the debt, we owe to those who came before. These Americans have not passed the torch, but are clasping it with us, urging us to continue the work alongside them,” Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in the introduction.

In 2021, after a year of racial reckoning across the country, editors and producers at Hearst magazines, newspapers, and television stations set out to interview Black elders, American men, and women aged 75 and older whose stories of success are hard-won and meaningful. A team of Black journalists, including young reporters starting out in their careers, chose the people they wanted to talk to, listen to, and learn from. In addition, the next generation of Black photographers captured their beautiful portraits to honor them. Lift Every Voice is a testament to the strength of their stories.

The Chicago Defender had a chance to speak with one of the incredible individuals featured in the book. Vivan Pinn, 81, from Washington D.C. was the only Black person and the only woman to graduate from her medical school class; the first Black woman to chair an academic pathology department in the United States (at Howard University School of Medicine), and the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health. She is known for her advocacy of women’s health issues, and for encouraging young women to pursue careers in science and medicine.

“Lift Every Voice: A Celebration of Black Lives” is available at bookstores and online retailers.

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